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Yet could not his genius be depressed, or his temper hurt, by this reverse of fortune. He resumed, with time, his usual chearfulness, and never abated one article in his way of living; which, though simple, was genial and elegant. The profits arising from his works were not inconsiderable; his tragedy of Agamemnon, acted in 1738, yielded a good sum; Mr. Millar was always at hand, to answer, or even to prevent his demands; and he had a friend or two besides, whose hearts, he knew, were not contracted by the ample fortunes they had acquired; who would, of themselves, interpose, if they saw any occasion for it.
But his chief dependance, during this long in, terval, was on the protection and bounty of his Royal Highness Frederic Prince of Wales; who, upon the recommendation of Lord Lyttelton, then his chief favourite, settled on him a handsome allowance. And afterwards, when he was introduced to his Royal Highness, that excellent prince, who truly was what Mr. Thomson paints him, the friend of mankind and of merit, received him very graciously, and ever after honoured him with many marks of particular favour and confidence. A circumstance, which does equal honour to the patron and the poet, ought not here to be omitted; that my Lord Lyttelton's recommendation came altogether unsolicited, and long before Mr. Thomson was personally known to him.
It happened, however, that the favour of his Royal Highness was in one instance of some prejudice to our author; in the refusal of a licence for his tragedy of Edward and Eleonora, which he had prepared for the stage in the year 1739. The reader may see that this play contains not a line which could juftly give offence; but the ministry, till fore from certain pasquinades, which had lately produced the stage-act; and as little satisfied with some parts of the prince's political conduct, as he was with their management of the public affairs; would not risque the representation of a piece written under his eye, and, they might probably think, by his command.
This refusal drew after it another; and in a way which, as it is related, was rather ludicrous. Mr. Paterson, a companion of Mr. Thomson, afterwards his deputy and then his succesor in the generalfurveyorship, used to write out fair copies for his friend, when such were wanted for the press or for the stage. This gentleman likewise courted the tragic muse; and had taken for his subject, the story of Arminius the German hero. But his play, guiltless as it was, being presented for a licence, no sooner had the cenfor cast his eyes on the handwriting in which he had seen Edward and Eleonora, than he cried out, Away with it! and the author's profits were reduced to what his bookseller could afford for a tragedy in distress.
Mr. Thomson's next dramatic performance was the Masque of Alfred; written, jointly with Mr. Mallet, by command of the Prince of Wales, for the entertainment of his Royal Highness's court, at his summer-residence. This piece, with some alterations, and the music new, has been since brought upon the stage by Mr. Mallet: but the edition we give is from the original, as it was acted at Clifden, in the year 1740, on the birth-day of her Royal Highness the Princess Augufta.
In the year 1745, his Tancred and Sigismunda, taken from the novel in Gil Blas, was performed with applause; and from the deep romantic distress of the lovers, continues to draw crowded houses. The success of this piece was indeed ensured from the first by Mr. Garrick and Mrs. Cibber, their appearing in the principal characters; which they heighten and adorn with all the magic of their never-failing art.
He had, in the mean time, been finishing his Castle of Indolence, in two Cantos. It was, at first, little more than a few detached stanzas, in the way of raillery on himself, and on some of his friends, who would reproach him with indolence; while he thought them, at least, as indolent as himself. But he saw very soon, that the subject deserved to be treated more seriously, and in a form fitted to convey one of the most important moral lessons.
The stanza which he uses in this work is that of Spenser, borrowed from the Italian poets; in which he thought rhymes had their proper place, and were even graceful: the compass of the stanza admitting an agreeable variety of final sounds; while the sense of the poet is not cramped or cut short, nor yet too much dilated: as must often happen, when it is parcelled out into rhymed couplets; the usual measure indeed of our elegy and satire; but which always weakens the higher poetry, and, to a true ear, will fometimes give it an air of the burlesque.
This was the last piece Mr. Thomson himself published; his tragedy of Coriolanus being only prepared for the theatre, when a fatal accident robbed the world of one of the best men, and best ; poets, that lived in it.
He had always been a timorous horseman; and more fo, in a road where numbers of giddy or unskilful riders are continually passing: so that when the weather did not invite him to go by water, he would commonly walk the distance between London and Richmond, with any acquaintance that offered; with whom he might chat and rest himself, or perhaps dine, by the way. One summer evening, being alone, in his walk from town to Hammersmith, he had overheated himself, and in that condition, imprudently took a boat to carry him to Kew; apprehending no bad confequence from the chill air on the river, which his walk to his house, at the upper end of Kew-lane, had always hitherto prevented. But, now, the cold had so feized him, that next day he found himself in a high fever, so much the more to be dreaded that he was of a full habit. This, however, by the use of proper medicines, was removed, so that he was thought to be out of danger: till the fine weather having tempted him to expose himself once more to the evening dews, his fever returned with violence, and with such fymptoms as left no hopes of a cure. Two days had passed before his
relapfe was known in town; at last Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Reid, with Dr. Armstrong, being informed of it, posted out at midnight to his affistance: but alas! came only to endure a sight of all others the most shocking to nature, the last agonies of their beloved friend. This lamented death happened on the 27th day of August, 1748.
His testamentary executors were, the Lord Lyttelton, whose care of our poet's fortune and fame ceafed not with his life; and Mr. Mitchell, a gentleman equally noted for the truth and constancy of his private friendships, and for his address and fpirit as a public minister. By their united interest, the orphan play of Coriolanus was brought on the stage to the best advantage: from the profits of which, and the sale of manuscripts, and other effects, all demands were duly satisfied, and a handsome sum remitted to his sisters. My Lord Lyttelton's prologue to this piece was admired as one of the best that had ever been written: the best Spoken it certainly was. The sympathizing audience saw that, then indeed, Mr. Quin was no attor; that the tears he shed, were those of real friendship and grief.
Mr. Thomson's remains were deposited in the church of Richmond, under a plain stone, without any inscription: nor did his brother poets at all exert themselves on the occasion, as they had lately done for one who had been the terror of poets all his lifetime. This filence furnished matter to one of his friends for an excellent fatirical epi. gram, which we are sorry we cannot give the